Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Last Post (This Month)

I expect to be busy today and tomorrow so this will be the last post for October. It is a restful experience to reread Poul Anderson's Virgin Planet immediately after his "Virgin Planet." Both begin with Corporal Maiden Barbara Whitley of Freetoon on orsper(horse-bird)-back and both end with Davis Bertram blushing. The story between is known but Virgin Planet is fifty pages longer so that there are plenty of additional details to appreciate. In fact, there seems to be an entire extra incident in a casteless "Burketown" that I have not reached yet.

We are told that:

"...this central continent was a labyrinth of mountains." (Virgin Planet, London, 1966, p. 60)

- and Anderson adds in the Author's Note that:

"(Later this continent was named Labyrinth.)" (p. 154)

Thus, Anderson had thought out a lot more background material than appears in the stories. Extra installments could have been set on Labyrinth after the long isolated Atlantis had been integrated into the Stellar Union.

Also, Davis is a potential series character who could have been shown exploring other planetary systems. Like Dominic Flandry, he regularly exercises in double gravity not because he likes it - he doesn't - but because a fit body is an asset. However, the two characters are otherwise dissimilar. Davis lives comfortably on inherited money, takes life easy and seeks personal glory whereas Flandry works hard to prolong the life of his threatened civilization.

Davis' Stellar Union is also threatened but, in this case, the causes are not apparent. It is simply that the Coordination Service cannot integrate all the data. According to the Chronology at the end of Starship, "Virgin Planet" is set in 3100 and the Third Dark Ages begin in 3200.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

"What A Long Way We Have Come..."

In the Psychotechnic History, consider "Marius" and "The Chapter Ends." In the Technic History, consider "The Saturn Game" and "Starfog."

In both cases, these are the opening and closing stories of a future history. In neither case would it be possible to recognize any connection between these stories if they were read without reference to the rest of their respective series. In both cases, Poul Anderson's imagination links near and far future scenarios through several intermediate stages.

Valti's equations in "Marius" are eventually fulfilled by the psychotechnical coordination of the Galaxy in "The Chapter Ends". A character in "The Saturn Game" was raised as a Jerusalem Catholic. Flandry's contemporaries include Jerusalem Catholics. Flandry, we infer, was responsible for the exodus which led to the founding of the remote colony that is discovered in "Starfog."

Although references to psychotechnics are absent from the Stellar Union period of the Psychotechnic History, it is clear that the science of man has continued to be developed and applied. It is safe to let Davis explore a planetary system because his "'...psychograph...'" shows that he has "'...a high goodwill quotient...'" and therefore will not "'...rob or murder anybody.'" (Virgin Planet, New York, 1982, p. 17) Also, the people of the Stellar Union can electronically adjust emotional patterns (p. 151). That sounds as if it could be a good period to live in and I would like to know more about why the Union collapsed.

Cordies, Nomads And Galactics

The Stellar Union Coordination Service, or "Cordies," feature or are referred to in four successive installments of Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History:

"Virgin Planet" shows us what a Cordy Chief thinks of a stellagraphic survey man;
"Teucan" tells us what a Trader thinks of Cordies;
"The Pirate" shows us how Cordy field agent Trevelyan Micah deals with an entrepreneur;
The Peregrine shows us how Trevelyan cooperates with and later joins the Nomads.

Thus, this one Service introduces us to four other sections of interstellar society. The Service cannot survive the collapse of the Union or the subsequent Third Dark Ages but the Nomads, especially when guided by Trevelyan and other ex-Cordies, are equipped to survive and to influence later civilizations.

The Nomads, like James Blish's Okies, perpetually travel through space, trading and stopping on planets but never to stay. In Blish's Cities in Flight, cities, lifted by antigravity and an FTL drive, leave Earth for economic reasons, thus de-urbanizing Earth. In Anderson's Psychotechnic History, Earth is de-urbanized because technological communication makes cities redundant but they re-emerge on the frontier as spaceports. Much later, in Galactic Civilization, cities are even rarer when individuals are able to cross space without vehicles by controlling cosmic energies.

Versions III

See Versions II.

A future history, or any fictitious series, gains substance when it presents a single event from different points of view.

Poul Anderson's "Virgin Planet" presents a diary entry by Yamagata Tetsuo, Chief of Coordination Service, Argus 293 Region, Stellamont, Nerthus. There is quite a lot of information to absorb here before comparing this passage with the corresponding one in the expanded version, Virgin Planet.

Stellamont is the single city on Nerthus, a colonized terrestroid planet about a thousand light years from the Solar System in the direction of Argus. This explains why, when the Author's Note to Virgin Planet identifies a star in a Nerthusian constellation, the star is named not just "Delta Capitis Lupi" but, more specifically, "(Ar 293) Delta Capitis Lupi." This means "the fourth brightest star in the Wolf's Head as seen from the base planet (Nerthus) of Argus 293 Region." The same star will have other designations if it is visible from other base planets.

But, to return to the content of Tetsuo's diary entry, the Chief writes notes and makes comments after his interview with Davis Bertram, a stellagraphic survey man. One of the comments is, "So much for Man's Starward Yearning..." (Starship, New York, 1982, p. 89)

Here, the Chief seems to parody the title of Enrico Yamatsu's "...classic history Starward!..." (p. 9)

Virgin Planet presents not Tetsuo's diary entry but a lengthier account of Tetsuo's interview with Davis from Davis' point of view. We even get a third character, the interplanetary freightman, Smith Hilary, who converses separately with both the others. Thus, reading both versions in tandem enriches our perception of the characters and their setting.

Tetsuo, conversing with Smith, confirms what we also glean from The Peregrine, that cities, redundant on Earth, have re-emerged on the frontier. This passage also confirms that men have been in this region of space for about six decades which fits with the Chronology at the end of Starship.

Versions II

See Versions.

Here is a point on which "Virgin Planet" and Virgin Planet agree, differing only on whether to use numerals or words:

"Barbara knew what all the 500 families looked like..." (Starship, New York, 1982, p. 86)

"...she knew what all the five hundred families looked like..." (Virgin Planet, London, 1966, p. 14)

Each "family" comprises a caste of identical twins born by parthenogenesis. Thus, the crew of the colonial spaceship that was displaced and shipwrecked by a trepidation vortex comprised exactly five hundred women. Therefore, I was wrong to suggest a thousand in an earlier post. (However, see here.)

We are told only a few of the surnames, usually with some indication as to their social role: the Udalls are hereditary rulers, the Whitleys hereditary huntresses etc. A Cohen is mentioned without such an indication on p. 91 of Starship but this mention has been deleted from the corresponding passage on p. 24 of Virgin Planet.

A woman is a "Maiden" and a "...novice in the Mysteries..." (Virgin Planet, p. 9) until she has been to the ancestral Ship and returned pregnant but, of course, they are all maidens in the usual sense of the word.

The next post, Versions III, will focus on an interesting difference between the two texts.

Atlantean Astronomy

I missed some salient data about Atlantean astronomy in a recent post. The information is scattered through the text(s). I am finding it informative to reread the novelization, Virgin Planet, immediately after rereading the original, shorter, "Virgin Planet." Information is repeated, amplified or nuanced in the longer version.

Atlantis is an Earth-like moon of the gas giant, Minos, which is permanently visible above the colonized hemisphere of Atlantis. When full, Minos is fourteen times the size of Luna as seen from Earth! Also, four other inner Minoan moons may be visible. On one occasion:

"...overhead...were two crescents, dim by daylight: one almost twice the apparent size of Luna seen from Earth, the other half again as big."
(Starship, New York, 1982, p. 97)

I wondered, "Half again as big as Luna or half again as big as the moon that is twice as big as Luna?"

The novel elaborates:

"Overhead...were two crescent moons, dim by daylight, one almost twice the apparent size of Earth's, the other half again as big as Luna seen from home..." (Virgin Planet, London, 1966, p. 31)

The Author's Note to the novel elaborates further:

in full phase, Minos is as bright as twelve hundred full moons on Earth;
the moons Ariadne and Theseus are each several times brighter than Luna;
Aegeus and Ariadne never set but instead move rapidly across Minos from west to east, then behind Minos from east to west;
Aegeus crosses the sky in 3.1 hours and completes its phases in about 30 hours;
occasionally, the full Ariadne changes color as it transits the full Minos at midnight.

What a sky! What might native Atlanteans have made of it? But there are no natives, only colonists. The colony is three hundred years old so its inhabitants are thoroughly familiar with their complicated celestial mechanics - and when a survey man arrives, he knows what to expect.

More could have been done with these ideas. The Author's Note includes information that did not make it into the texts, e. g.:

there are a few primitive mammals on the outer hemisphere but the colonists never see them;
the mountainous main content, on the inner hemisphere, was later named Labyrinth.

After the events of "Virgin Planet," men would arrive, bringing technology. Thus, the colonists would stop reproducing by parthenogenesis, society would modernize and many sequels could have been written about this one planet.


I have got interested in the planet Nerthus in Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History. I have deduced that Nerthus is colonized in "Green Thumb," which I have yet to read. It then becomes part of the background of "Virgin Planet," "The Pirate" and Star Ways/The Peregrine.

Nerthus is Carsten's Star III on the Sagittarian frontier of the Stellar Union. Colonists, like Solarians, live far apart because they are easily connected by telescreens and gravity fliers. However, trade with nearby planetary systems necessitates spaceports, warehouses, depots, service and repair facilities, shops, robot factories, entertainment and administration, therefore cities, although usually only one per planet or planetary system.

The Nerthusian city, Stellamont, has a Coordination Service base and an old section including the native quarter which is inhabited by tall, green-furred, four-armed bipeds and their six-legged draft animals.

Further, the galaxy is mapped with reference to constellations as seen from various base planets which include Nerthus. This is a good example of a location in one installment of a future history series becoming part of the established background of later installments of that series. Anderson could have added a lot more stories in this setting but instead went on to write many other works including several other future history series.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Atlantean Genotypes

Nicholsons, unintelligent menial workers.
Whitleys, hereditary huntresses, military, higher caste.
Dyckmans, "sloppy," scant mother instinct, good flatterers.
Latvalas, slim, blond, good with javelins,usually hereditary bodyguards.
Udalls, hereditary rulers.
Macklins, husky, military.
Burkes, counselors, thinkers, soldiers, artists, artisans;
Lundgards, military.
Damons, military.
Hausers, military.
Craigs, poets and weavers.
Holloways, Salmons, O'Briens, artists, artisans, entertainers.
Trevors, a higher caste.

This cannot be a full list of Atlantean castes and I may have missed some surnames in the text but will continue to check.

Four Tetralogies

Poul and Karen Anderson's The King Of Ys and Poul Anderson's Harvest Of Stars are tetralogies. Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series could also be packaged as such:

The Guardians Of Time
"Time Patrol"
"Brave To Be A King"
"The Only Game In Town"
"Delenda Est"
"Gibraltar Falls"

The Gods Of Time
"The Sorrow Of Odin The Goth"
"Star Of The Sea"

The Thieves of Time
"Year Of The Ransom"
"Ivory And Apes And Peacocks"

The Shield Of Time
The Shield Of Time
"Death And The Knight"

- as could his Psychotechnic History:

"The Sensitive Man"
"The Big Rain"

Solar Union
"Quixote And The Windmill"
"Cold Victory"
"What Shall It Profit?"
"The Troublemakers"
"The Snows Of Ganymede"

Stellar Union
"Star Ship"
"Green Thunb"
"The Acolytes"
Virgin Planet

Star Ways
"The Pirate"
The Peregrine
"The Chapter Ends"

(The shorter version of "Virgin Planet" belongs in a volume of earlier, shorter versions of Anderson's works.)

The first two stories in the proposed Stellar Union collection are FTL but pre-Stellar Union and I have not yet read the third and fourth so that so far I have read only four of the six works set in the Stellar Union period.

Between them, these four tetralogies cover the historical and prehistorical pasts and three alternative futures.

I was pleased to find that Anderson's Psychotechnic History, like his Technic History, does the same kinds of things as Asimov's Foundation Trilogy but does them better. However, I hope that I have finished comparing Asimov unfavorably with Anderson. This issue has come up several times and each time has, to me, seemed fresh but cannot go on forever!

Religion, Astronomy And Society

You might expect a women only society to have a Goddess religion but the inhabitants of Poul Anderson's "Virgin Planet," conscious of their three hundred year separation from the by now mythical "Men," invoke "Father," not "Mother."

Their Earth-sized colony planet, Atlantis, is a moon of the massive gas giant planet, Minos. Thus, the Atlantean sky contains:

two suns, one merely the brightest star although visible by day;
Minos, permanently above the inhabited hemisphere, several times larger than the Moon as seen from Earth, with visible storms, daily eclipsing the nearer sun;
four other Minoan moons, two visibly moving.

Although without a moon of their own, Atlanteans see seven heavenly bodies apart from the fixed stars. This complicated celestial activity has planetary consequences. High, shifting tides make alternating salt marshes or lakes, to which local life has adapted, of the coastlines.

About a thousand women reproducing parthogenetically have generated a caste system based on the psychophysical aptitudes of the different genotypes. However, other social arrangements have also developed:

the veiled Doctors controlling the parthenogenesis machine in the ancestral Ship have become a neutral but powerful priesthood;
refugees colonizing a fertile, easily defended river island became anarchic and unwarlike;
salt marsh dwellers have degenerated to neolithic nakedness;
the freer, more mobile sea people have a democratic republic.

As ever, Anderson considers sociology as well as planetology.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

A Public Performance?

In Poul Anderson's "Virgin Planet," the all female colony on Atlantis has been reproducing by parthogenesis for three hundred years. This has more consequences than just a single sex society. It also means that there is a limited number of genetic templates so that society becomes caste-ridden as types with different aptitudes adopt specific roles. They expect "the Men" to arrive but have mythical ideas about what this will be like.

Fortuitously, local animal species do not include mammals, in which sexual differences are easily discerned. Finally, the women do know about what they call "Monsters," non-human intelligent species that might also arrive in spacecraft. Therefore, when one man does arrive alone, he must prove that he is not a Monster.

He is put naked in a cage with a Maiden, a women who has not yet been fertilized, in front of a crowd and told to fertilize her. She gives him her permission so this would have been consensual sex with an adult!

Individuals and mores differ. Like many of us, he is unable to function in these circumstances. (In "Rammer" by Larry Niven, an inability to have sex in front of witnesses was interpreted as evidence that the viewpoint character would be able to handle the isolation and celibacy of a long solo interstellar journey at relativistic speeds.) My only comment here is that, although our hero's predicament is understandable and expectable, it is not inevitable. I  have known men who would willingly and gladly prove themselves in these circumstances... But then Anderson's story would have been over very quickly, as Hamlet would end quickly if its hero could just do what he thinks he ought to do in the first place!

(Arnold Shwarzenegger's Hamlet rewrite: "You killed my father, Claudius! Big mistake!" Gun fire. Curtain.)


"The Old Udall leaned back and let her chamber-maid comb the stiff gray hair. Elinor Dyckman had gotten that job; an Udall usually took a Dyckman for a lover."

- Poul Anderson, "Virgin Planet" IN Anderson, Starship (New York, 1982), pp. 83-181 AT p. 93.

"The Old Udall...leaned back and let her chambermaid comb the stiff gray hair.
"Elinor Dyckman had gotten that job. The Dyckmans were good at flattery."

- Poul Anderson, Virgin Planet (London, 1966), p. 26.

This passage has been changed in two ways for the novelization.

(i) The sentence from "The Old..." to "...gray hair" has been lengthened. The additional material is:

"...finished a bone and snapped her fingers. While an adolescent Craig ran up with a wooden plate of choice pieces, she leaned back and..." (ibid.)

(ii) All reference to sexual relationships between the women in this all female colony have been removed. Presumably this decision, taken either by the author or by the publisher, reflected expectations about the market for the book version which was first published in the US in 1959?

The Astronomy Of Virgin Planet

The astronomy of Poul Anderson's "Virgin Planet" is confusing so it is helpful to consult the Author's Note in the longer version, Virgin Planet.

Caput Lupi, the Wolf's Head, is a constellation visible from Nerthus, a colonized terrestroid planet of Carsten's Star, which is about a thousand light years from Sol towards Argus. The four brightest stars in Caput Lupi are Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta Capitis Lupi, respectively.

Delta is a double star:

hot blue A, called Daedalus, has three uninhabitable planets;
Sol-like B, called Icarus, has two planets, including the eighteen-mooned gas giant, Minos.

The third Minoan moon, Atlantis, Earth-sized and colonized, is the "Virgin Planet." Thus, the story is set on one of the eighteen moons of one of the two planets of one of the two companions in the fourth brightest star of a constellation visible a thousand light years from the Solar System.

The (inhabited) "inner hemisphere" of Atlantis is the side permanently facing Minos. Anderson presents tables for the equatorial diameters, orbital radii and periods, angular diameter from Atlantis and times between oppositions to Atlantis for the five inner moons. All of this information cannot be incorporated into the text of the novel but it nevertheless determines the Atlantean environment in ways that affect the story.

As Brian Aldiss remarked once, a hard sf writer works harder than a mainstream novelist.

See also Atlantean Astronomy.

Trepidation Vortices

In Poul Anderson's "Gypsy," the faster than light spaceship, the Traveler, carrying colonists from Earth to Alpha Centauri, suffers an explosion in its engines and winds up thousands of light-years away, unable to find home. To explain the mishap, crew members speculate about space warps, "...points of infinite discontinuity, unidimensional fields, and Cosmos knows what else." (Starship, New York, 1982, p. 20)

The phrase "...Cosmos knows..." acknowledges that there is a Cosmic religion in this future history although I am not sure that its tenets are elucidated anywhere in the series?

Three other works explain the phenomenon that threw the Traveler off course: a trepidation vortex. The Author's Note to Virgin Planet informs us that such vortices are consistent with the postulated physics of the series. "Virgin Planet" and The Peregrine present, respectively, shorter and longer dictionary definitions of a trepidation vortex and Virgin Planet summarizes the Manual on the subject.

Combining these three accounts, such vortices are:

(i) traveling regions of warped space;
causes of violently shifting gravitational fields;
responsible for planetary perturbations;
able to displace and, usually, destroy a spaceship on hyperdrive.
(ii) large traveling force-fields of uncertain origin and nature;
causes of gravitational turbulence with gyromagnetic and electric side-effects;
similar to hydrodynamic vortices;
causes of trepidation in material bodies and of irregularities in hyperdrive fields, either destroying a ship or throwing it off course;
possibly caused by local concentrations of nascent mass.

(iii) little understood traveling sections where the geometry of the continuum is distorted;
able, if big enough, to make a planetary rotation period fluctuate by a few seconds;
able to destroy or displace a spaceship on hyperdrive if the ship's discontinuous psi functions mesh with those of the vortex.

We can see that Anderson has an idea and tries out different ways to express it.


Although I have started to reread the original shorter version of Poul Anderson's "Virgin Planet," it is helpful also to refer to the Author's Note at the end of the novel. It may be necessary to reread both versions in their entirety.

The women only colonists of another planet have domesticated large flightless birds, "orspers," to ride on. Such steeds are more imaginative and exotic than extraterrestrial equivalents of horses. Regular Anderson readers will remember his novel, The Day Of Their Return, in which colonists of the planet Aeneas have imported both horses and green, six-legged stathas as draught animals and the planet is also visited by the Chereionite Aycharaych whose species may be descended from large flightless birds. But that is on another planet in another history.

Although the orspers are an exotic touch, birds remain a Terrestrial kind of organism and we even have some that are large and flightless. However, the Author's Note convincingly accounts for the existence of such similar organisms on another planet and also demonstrates the amount of background thinking hidden behind any well conceived work of hard sf:

first, terrestroid biochemistry is to be expected on such an Earth-like planet;
secondly, currently life is flourishing in a mild interglacial climate;
thirdly, only birds are equipped to escape from the sudden, major environmental changes that are caused by this planet's irregular weather and turbulent geology.

Thus, although a few primitive mammals do survive on another part of the planet with stabler weather, it is the birds that have multiplied, and sometimes increased in size, whenever conditions have again become favorable. Land species are usually wiped out before they can become well-established.

Parallel evolution, of course, occurs on Earth. Fish and swimming birds and mammals are similarly streamlined. Sight and flight have such high survival value that both have evolved several times. We can expect flyers, if not birds, on other planets. The future history that contains Aeneas and Chereion also contains Ythri whose dominant species, although not birds, are winged and feathered and remain hunting carnivores even after they have become intelligent.


My old, second hand, paperback copy of Poul Anderson's Virgin Planet (London, 1966) (see image) has, inside its covers:

a title page;
a publication history;
a dedication;
a blank page;
the text of the novel on pp. 9-149;
an Author's Note on pp. 150-156;
four pages advertising other books.

Since there are only four pages before the text, why does the text begin on p. 9 instead of on p. 5? I think that one page has been removed before the title page and can see that another has definitely been removed before the text. Here, "one page" means two numbered pages, thus pp. 1-2 and 7-8.

I guess that:

p. 1 was extracts from the text;
p. 2 was other Anderson titles;
p. 7 was the table of contents;
p. 8 was blank.

I suggest that a text should always begin on p. 1 and that the preceding pages should be numbered from p. i. In order to know how many pages are occupied by this novel, it is not sufficient to look at the last numbered page. Instead, we must subtract 8 from 149, then confirm that there are no blank pages between chapters. There are not. This practice started later.

We usually attend only to the content of a novel but it is interesting occasionally to reflect on its physical format, especially since publishing conventions have changed slightly over the decades.

Virgin Planet

"Virgin Planet" by Poul Anderson was:

published in Venture Science Fiction, 1957;
novelized in 1959;
republished in the Anderson collection, Starship (New York, 1982), pp. 83-181.

In my copy of Virgin Planet (London, 1966), the text of the novel is on pp. 9-149. Thus, 41 more pages, with smaller, closer print, than the shorter version in Venture and Starship. Pp. 150-156 are an Author's Note, explaining the premises of the novel:

the light speed limit applies to "...the group velocity of a particle-wave train..." but not to phase velocity so "...a device for handling discontinuous psi functions..." (p. 150) allows a faster than light psuedo-velocity " only by the frequency of the engine's oscillators" (ibid.) and also gravity control;

a spatial condition called a trepidation vortex, as explained in the novel, can occur;

"...a nearly perfect dielectric..." (p. 151) makes small, manageable blaster guns feasible (an earlier story in this, Psychotechnic, future history mentioned "dielectrics" as making destructive weapons feasible for smaller groups and I commented that this idea should reappear as part of the background of later installments);

electronic readjustment of emotional patterns;
interstellar emigration for psychological, not economic, reasons;
the Stellar Union and its Coordination Service;
a Basic language and a Cosmic religion;
the galaxy mapped with reference to constellations as seen from base planets like Nerthus.

This background information might be more interesting than the story although I will shortly reread the latter, at least in the shorter version. One difference that I remember between the two versions is that one of them shows Lesbianism within the women only colony whereas the other does not.

Saturday, 26 October 2013


Poul Anderson invents a genuinely non-humanoid alien, Smokesmith, in "The Pirate":

small barrel-shaped body;
four legs;
clawed feet;
four tentacles as arms;
three boneless fingers at the end of each arm;
blue petals for a head;
patterns on the petals for sense organs;
an art form of sounds and odors;
ability to calculate an orbit without needing to consult a computer;
time spent waving arms and "'...mak[ing] my alternate life.'" (Starship, New York, 1982, p. 224)

Smokesmith says that human language lacks "'...the necessary concepts...'" (ibid.) to describe this alternate life but it sounds to me as if he has a vivid creative imagination, thus an internal equivalent of a TV or computer screen.

Of an entrepreneur investigated by Smokesmith and his colleague in the Coordination Service, Smokesmith says:

"'Our information about his world line is fragmentary, and zero about its future segment.'" (p. 220)

Does this imply that Smokesmith sometimes does have information about other people's futures?

Interstellar Society

Eight of the twenty works in Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History cover the early FTL and Stellar Union periods and introduce six sections of interstellar society:

entrepreneurs, including "Traders";
Cordies (Coordination Service field agents);
stellagraphic survey men.

These social groups are not presented in a linear sequence but weave in and out of the narrative:

Nomads, introduced in the opening story of the period, and a Cordy, introduced in an intermediate story, join forces in the concluding novel of the period;
colonists and natives interact in two of the stories;
a survey man discovers an unusual isolated colony in "Virgin Planet," which exists both as a story and as a novel;
one story features one Trader who disparages Cordies but would have benefited from their advice.

Clearly, this period could have been expanded indefinitely.

The successive periods of the History are:

World War III aftermath;
UN world government;
Solar Union;
Second Dark Ages;
early FTL;
Stellar Union;
Third Dark Ages;
interstellar Empires not covered by any of the stories;
Galactic Civilization.

Anderson compares his "Traders," who flourish in the Stellar Union period, to the Vikings, who were celebrated in the First Dark Ages, and to the Martian war lords, who were celebrated in the Second Dark Ages, so, by implication, these Traders will be celebrated during the Third Dark Ages. Ironically, Anderson gives us several volumes about Vikings but no story about his Martian war lords.

The outcome of "Teucan," the story about the Trader, is entirely predictable so it is to Anderson's credit that he is able to keep the story going interestingly for seventeen pages.

Linear And Non-Linear Future Histories

Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy begins untold thousands or tens of thousands of years in our future. Several later written volumes recount intervening history. After an incoherent time travel scenario, mostly set in other timelines, there is an interplanetary robotic economy, then two phases of extrasolar colonization followed by the growth of the Trantorian Empire that becomes the Galactic Empire.

The Trilogy opens as the twelve thousand year old Empire begins its terminal decline. Hari Seldon's psychohistorical Plan will reduce the interregnum between the First and Second Empires from a predicted thirty thousand years to a mere thousand. The Trilogy covers only the first four centuries of the interregnum. Two subsequent novels add one more century.

Although the series is set so far in our future, human lifespans have not been extended. (By contrast, after the opening volume of James Blish's Cities In Flight future history, the reader does not notice that centuries are elapsing because the anti-agathics preserve a small number of interstellar travelers until the end of the universe - which, however, is brought unexpectedly close to the present for narrative convenience.) Thus, none of Asimov's characters survives for more than a century.

Despite the absence of continuing characters, the Trilogy remains an entirely linear narrative. The Galactic Encyclopedia Foundation on the planet Terminus becomes a Mayoralty, with Traders and Merchant Princes, successively interacting with:

imperial provinces that become independent kingdoms;
the weakened Empire;
the Mule who upsets Seldon's plan;
the hidden Second Foundation that restores the Plan;
the planetary collective consciousness called Gaia that secretly manipulates the Second Foundation;
the immortal telepathic robot, Daneel Olivaw, who is ultimately behind both Seldon's Plan and Gaia and even indirectly the Mule because the latter turns out to have been a rebel Gaian, not after all an individual mutant.

The subsequent novels diverge from the original Plan first by introducing Gaia and secondly by reintroducing Daneel from the first extrasolar colonization period. Despite this divergence in content, the structure remains chronologically linear with each installment a direct sequel to the preceding one. An indefinite number of otherwise independent stories could have been set, for example, in the Traders period but Asimov did not go down that route. Instead, each new installment had to advance the timeline and progress the Plan, although ultimately Daneel's, not Seldon's.

extremely far fetched;
more about implausible social manipulators than about credible social developments;
differing from the alternative future history model created by Robert Heinlein and followed by Poul Anderson and Larry Niven.

The Heinlein Model:
several successive historical periods with a number of otherwise independent stories set in each period;
transitions between periods explained either by pivotal stories or by background information in later stories.

Heinlein's "If This Goes On -" informs us that the Prophets had seized power and describes their overthrow;
Anderson's "Cold Victory" informs us that the Humanists had seized power and describes their overthrow.

Heinlein devotes several stories to the daily lives of ordinary people on the Moon in the pre-Prophetic period, then two to the changed social conditions in the post-Prophetic period;
to a lesser extent, Anderson shows us daily life on Earth and a colonized asteroid in the pre-Humanist period.

My point, as ever, is that I prefer Anderson's several future histories to Asimov's single future history! Even Anderson's earliest, Psychotechnic, history proves to be more substantial than expected when reread with sufficient attention.

Thursday, 24 October 2013


In a future history, no detail is unimportant. A major event in one story can provide a background detail for another story that might be set centuries later with no character continuity or plot linearity. Thus, a network of cross-references between otherwise independent stories binds together the future history.

In Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History:

I have yet to read "Green Thumb" but an internet book review reveals that it is about human beings who colonize a planet, then suspect that one of its species is intelligent;
"Virgin Planet" reveals that the Stellar Union Coordination Service has a base on the planet Nerthus and that Carsten was a planetary explorer or discoverer;
The Peregrine reveals that Nerthus is Carsten's Star III;
"The Pirate" reveals that Nerthus was humanly colonized before it was realized that it already had intelligent life.

These clues generate a high probability that "Green Thumb" is about Carsten on Nerthus. I still know nothing about the other uncollected story, "The Acolytes."

Two "Trilogies"

Isaac Asimov wrote eight installments of a "Foundation" future history series. These were collected, with one new introductory story, in three volumes, hence the inaccurate phrase, "Foundation Trilogy." This "Trilogy" is neither one work in three parts, like JRR Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings, nor three related works, like James Blish's After Such Knowledge. Asimov later wrote four Foundation novels.

Poul Anderson wrote twenty installments of a "Psychotechnic" future history series. Sixteen of these were collected in three volumes, hence another "trilogy," although not, in this case, a complete collection of the series. Anderson later wrote several other future histories.

When the Psychotechnic History is considered as a unit, it can be seen to have remarkable parallels with the far better known Foundation series:

both Seldon's psychohistory and Valti's psychotechnics can be used to predict events and to direct society;

both are initially successful, with Seldon's Foundation defeating greater powers, including even the shrunken Empire, and the UN world government, advised by the Psychotechnic Institute, defeating nationalists, militarists and dictators;

however, Seldon was unable to predict a powerful individual mutant, the Mule, as psychotechnics is unable to prevent the social dissatisfaction caused by mass technological unemployment;

the Mule defeats the Foundation and the Humanist Revolution outlaws the Psychotechnic Institute;

however, the Foundation Trilogy ends with the psychohistorians on course to implement Seldon's Plan for a Second Galactic Empire while the Psychotechnic History ends with psychotechnicians coordinating Galactic Civilization long after the Fall of a First Empire.

So, to anyone who commends Foundation, Anderson fans can recommend the Psychotechnic History. This summary shows that Anderson addresses more plausible social issues.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013


Poul Anderson's "The Chapter Ends" is about endings on several levels:

(i) it is the concluding installment of a future history series;

(ii) in it, the small remaining population of the Sirius Sector, including the Solar System, is evacuated en masse to colony planets closer to the Galactic center -

(iii) - except for one very old man who remains on Earth, but he will survive for at most another two decades;

(iv) the Terrestrial peasants will be assimilated into Galactic Civilization, so that their distinctive way of life will end;

(v) Galactic visitors view the ruins of Sol City, capital of the First Empire, an earlier interstellar civilization that had come to its end fifty thousands years previously.

In a few brief passages, Anderson realizes past Imperial glories, apparent peasant timelessness and individual Galactics' powers. We remember the characters and entire societies of earlier installments that are not referred to here although we can see that their science of psychotechnics has at last been applied to the integration of individuals and of civilization.

We might wonder when and how the Galactic Civilization will end, as we do with the Commonalty in the concluding installment of Anderson's second future history.

Jorun And Others

(I will be away on family business for two days. Page views decline when I don't post but I can't do it all the time!)

(I found nine Virgin Planet cover illustrations so I am using them to illustrate Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History. Some more recent novels, even when re-issued, only have a single cover.)

After, in the previous post, comparing Asimov unfavorably with Anderson (yet again), I reflected that Asimov has time travelers, robots, detectives, an interstellar empire and a science of society in one long series, plus some detectives elsewhere, whereas the Anderson side of the comparison comprises two future histories, the Time Patrol series and a mystery trilogy. Thus, more variety.

How much do we know about the Galactic Civilization in "The Chapter Ends"?

It comprises humanity and other species;
thanks to artificial mutation in earlier generations, every brain contains a generator to control cosmic energies;
gas giant dwellers' generators and those of human beings and their allies interfere with each other;
therefore, the two civilizations agree to inhabit different Galactic Sectors;
the psychotechnician, Jorun of Fulkhis, is nearly a thousand years old;
like every other Galactic, he can control his nervous system, fly and generate a wind-screen;
he can also fly thirty thousand light-years in ten days;
Terrans chose not to participate in Civilization but to live as peasants beside the massive ruins of the First Empire;
even they have a lifetime of maybe two centuries;
some planets have been given luminous skies;
a few retain cities but most Galactics live far apart;
Jorun lives on a moor where there are dark nights;
the planet Loa is covered by an indigo ocean with many islands;
Sharang has massive mountains;
Jareb has a sky full of light;
humanity must evacuate the Galactic periphery to make way for the Hulduvians;
(but, since the Terrans do not use cosmic energies, why must they vacate?);
since the Hulduvians will not arrive for centuries, it is acceptable that one very old man remains on Earth;
he expects to enjoy solitude but screams and runs when he realizes that he is completely alone;
this is an unhappy ending to an otherwise peaceful, autumnal story but it is to be hoped that Kormt will adjust to his self-imposed isolation.

From Valti To Jorun

I now see the twenty installments of Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History as a unity. Their theme is the eventual triumph of human self-understanding through the science of psychotechnics:

in the opening installment, "Marius," Valti's equations begin to be applied;
four installments show early successes of psychotechnics;
two show the beginnings of social problems;
over tens of thousands of years, there are four setbacks -

the Humanist revolution leading to the outlawing of the Psychotechnic Institute;
the Kali-Technic conflict leading to the Second Dark Ages;
the failure of the Stellar Union Coordination Service leading to the Third Dark Ages;
a slave-owning Empire, sacked by barbarians;

in the concluding installment, "The Chapter Ends," psychotechnicians coordinate Galactic Civilization.

I must stop making this comparison but I think that:

Anderson's series about psychotechnics is better than Asimov's Trilogy about psychohistory;
Anderson's series about the Rise and Fall of the Terran Empire is better than Asimov's series about the Rise and Fall of the Galactic Empire;
Anderson's series about a time travel organization intervening in history is better than Asimov's novel about a time travel organization intervening in history;
Anderson's detective fiction is better written than Asimov's;
Anderson wrote historical fiction whereas Asimov didn't;
Asimov's many short stories and novels about robots are, of course, more comprehensive than Anderson's single story in the Psychotechnic History - but Anderson makes a valid point, nevertheless.

"The Chapter Ends" ends with an individual realizing that he has maybe made a bad choice but the story of humanity continues beyond the end of the series.

Fifty Thousand Years

"'Thousands of years ago, men learned how to control the great basic forces of the cosmos with only a small bit of energy.'"

- Poul Anderson, Starship (New York, 1982), p. 260.

Yet another passage demonstrating that "The Chapter Ends" is set a lot further in the future than is suggested by the Chronology of the Psychotechnic Series (pp. 284-285).

However, a bit further on, there is a passage that tells us something more:

"'The Sirius Sector has been an isolated, primi- ah - quiet region since the First Empire fell, fifty thousand years ago.'" (p. 263)

And how long would the Empire have taken to rise and flourish after the Third Dark Ages which, if I have read the Chronology correctly, ended about 4000 AD?

"The Chapter Ends" summarizes a miniature future history and could stand as a one-off work. However, since only a very small change in the Chronology would eliminate the chronological contradiction between this story and the "earlier" nineteen works of the Psychotechnic History, I am now more inclined to accept Anderson's word that these twenty works form a single series.

It is unbalanced as a future history with just one installment set so long after all the others and with so many intervening events merely referred to but it was Anderson's first attempt at this kind of fiction and I am finding it fascinating to reread and analyze.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Chronological Questions II

There is one easy way to remove the chronological contradiction from Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History. The Chronology dates "The Chapter Ends" to post-4000 and Sandra Miesel's interstitial text agrees with this, dating that story to the early fifth millennium. Just two words, "4000" and "fifth," could be altered without making any change to Anderson's texts and without even making any other change to the Chronology.

By contrast, the text of "The Chapter Ends" is permeated with phrases like:

"...[Terrans] had been static for more thousands of years than anyone knew." Starship (New York, 1982), p. 255.

" had changed; over the thousands of years, natural and controlled adaptation had fitted him to the worlds he had colonized..." (p. 258)

However, even if there were no overt contradiction, the story is set so far in the future that it simply has no connection with the histories of the UN, the Solar Union or the Stellar Union. Jorun is a "...psychotechnician..." (p. 256) but, like the hyperdrive, psychotechnics can exist in more than one timeline.

Did Anderson project any stories that would have been set during:

the Third Dark Ages;
the First Empire;
the many sackings of Sol City;
subsequent Empires;
the many millennia of Terran peasantry;
the artificial mutation enabling individual human beings to control cosmic energies and fly between stars;
the alliance of human and other species in "...the great star-clusters of Galactic center" (p. 262);
their friendly negotiations with the gas giant dwelling Hulduvians of the Galactic periphery?

That would have been a much longer and more diverse future history.

The Stellar Union Coordination Service correlates information with "integrator" machines (The Peregrine, New York, 1979, p. 30). The psychotechnician Jorun takes his orders from "...the Integrator on Corazuno..." (Starship, p. 256).

So maybe Jorun synthesizes elements derived from the earlier Psychotechnic Institute and Coordination Service? To revive a term that had been applied to the genetic original of the earlier Rostomily Brotherhood Un-men, Jorun is certainly a "superman," nearly a thousand years old and able to fly the thirty thousand light-years from Corazuno to Earth in just ten days, then hang free in space to observe Earth, his ancestral planet although not one atom from it is in his body.

The Mountain

" was like trying to knock down a mountain. You beat on its rocky flanks till your hands were bloody, and still the mountain stood there, sunlight on its high snow fields and in the forests that rustled up its slopes, and it did not really notice you. You were a brief, thin buzz between two long nights, but the mountain was forever."

- Poul Anderson, "The Chapter Ends" IN Starship (New York, 1982), pp. 253-281 AT p. 253.

I quote this passage at some length for several reasons.

(i) Anderson incorporates one of his vivid descriptions of natural beauty into an extended metaphor for a civilized man's frustration at trying to persuade a peasant.

(ii) Although the description of a snow-covered, wooded mountain is metaphorical, it simultaneously sets the scene for the depopulated future Earth where the two men are conversing.

(iii) The mountain metaphor incorporates a sonic metaphor for human life, "...a brief, thin buzz..."

(iv) This story describes the end of human occupation of Earth while the phrase, "...long nights...", echoes the concluding period of Anderson's later, longer future history.

(v) Anderson knows that nothing is forever but, at the end of this comparison, he allows himself to write poetically or impressionistically. In human experience, mountains seem to be forever.

Jorun, a Galactic, is trying to persuade Kormt of Huerdar, Gerlaug's son, Speaker for Solis Township, to leave Earth with everyone else. Jorun reflects:

"There was no real talking to these peasants; too many millennia lay between, and you couldn't shout across that gulf." (p. 254)

Millennia? If, as we are asked to accept, "The Chapter Ends" is set in the Psychotechnic History timeline, then Earth was technologically civilized without any peasantry less than one millennium previously. It is a puzzle why this story has been accepted as belonging to this series.

The Quiet Earth

This occasional sf idea has a modicum of plausibility: FTL will move human activity out of the Solar System so Earth will become a quiet place. Obviously, an entire planetary population would not emigrate immediately, even if given unlimited living space to colonize, contra Bob Shaw in Orbitsville. However, the home population might indeed decline over time.

In James Blish's Cities In Flight future history, antigravity-powered cities leave Earth for economic reasons:

"Earth itself became a garden planet, bearing only one city worth noticing, the sleepy capitol of a galaxy. Pittsburgh valley bloomed, and rich honeymooners went there to frolic.
"Old bureaucrats went to Earth die.
"Nobody else went there at all."
- James Blish, Earthman, Come Home (London, 1963), p. 13.

These reflections are occasioned by the fact that essentially the same future Earth exists both in Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic future history and in his stand alone novel, World Without Stars.

"Earth is a quiet world."  - World Without Stars (New York, 1966), p. 120.

The following passage describes:

great forests;
low population;
starport towns;
educational centers for galactic youth;
flourishing art;
living science and scholarship;
but no new buildings;
preservation of the old;
immortal space travelers' property unchanged after centuries of robotic supervision.

In "The Pirate," A Psychotechnic History story, Earth is commended for "...its quiet, its intellectuality..."
- Starship (New York, 1982), p. 212.

In The Peregrine, a Psychotechnic History novel, Earth is green with forests through which "...isolated houses and small village groupings..." are scattered.
- The Peregrine (New York, 1978), p. 24.

The following passage describes a planet with:

a small, mostly creative, population;
scientific research;
arts -

- so it definitely reads like World Without Stars revisited.

Chronological Questions

According to the Chronology of Psychotechnic History (Poul Anderson, Star Ship, New York, 1982, pp. 282-283), the Second Dark Ages begin in 2300, just thirty years after the events of "Brake," and the Stellar Union is founded in 2900 so do the Second Dark Ages last for 600 years or less? Less: something unspecified occurs in 2600, the hyperdrive is invented in 2784 and we are told the stories of two of the interstellar spaceships that are launched before 2900.

Also according to the Chronology, the Third Dark Ages begin in 3200, just 80 years after the events of The Peregrine, and there is a well established Galactic civilization early in the fifth millennium. It follows from this that the Third Dark Ages last for considerably less than 800 years.

However, the text of the concluding story, "The Chapter Ends," set post-4000, implies that an impossible number of events has occurred since The Peregrine. On Earth, there are enormous ruins of "...Sol City, capital of the legendary First [interstellar] Empire..." (p. 272). If there was a First Empire, then there must have been at least a Second, if not more? Sol City had been "...sacked again and again by the barbarian hordes..." (p. 273) so how long did that take? The ruins had been "...dug over by hundreds of generations..." (ibid.). A generation is 20 years so a hundred generations would be 2000 years. Hundreds of generations would mean several thousand years since the Fall of the Empire which had lasted for how long before that?

And the First Empire had slaves whereas the Solar Union in the twenty second century had had mass unemployment but nevertheless had maintained its population in comfort thanks to automation. Thus, "The Chapter Ends," although an interesting story, does not belong at the end of the Psychotechnic History.

Sandra Miesel's interstitial text before "The Chapter Ends" tells us that:

"The Stellar Union flew apart like an overwound spring." (p. 252)

This fits with what Trevelyan had said in The Peregrine:

"'The overworked integrators are years behind in correlating information...'" (The Peregrine, New York, 1979, p. 30)

- but she adds, and this also makes sense, that the Nomads, whom Trevelyan joined:

"...bore various seeds of knowledge through the Third Dark Ages." (op. cit.)

However, these seeds would not have grown into a "First Empire" and indeed the Galactic Civilization post-4000 is not organized imperialistically but does retain psychotechnic science from earlier in the History.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Between The Dark Ages

I am handicapped by still not having read "The Acolytes" or "Green Thumb." Thus, of the works set between the Second and Third Dark Ages of Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History, I am familiar with these six:

"Star Ship";
"Virgin Planet";
"The Pirate";
The Peregrine.

"Virgin Planet" begins with quotations from:

the Argus 293 Region Pilot's Manual;
the General Encyclopedic Dictionary;
the Argus 293 Region Coordination Service Chief's Diary.

However, the central character, Davis Bertram, is a stellagraphic survey man, not, as I had thought, a Cordy. Thus, this is not really a Coordination Service story.

However, three of the six works do form a triad:

the Nomads begin in "Gypsy";
Trevelyan Micah is a Cordy in "The Pirate";
Micah joins the Nomads in The Peregrine.

Because of faster than light travel, all of these works are set outside the Solar System. Only the two Trevelyan Micah stories show their central character as on Earth before he embarks on an interstellar mission. After eight centuries, Earth is no longer the scene of ideological conflict and global chaos that it was immediately before the Second Dark Ages. In fact, it sounds like the quiet, studious Earth of Anderson's non-series novel, World Without Stars. Trevelyan appreciates Earth's "...quiet..." and "...intellectuality..." (Star Ship, New York, 1982, p. 212). Homes are scattered over the green landscape of western North America (The Peregrine, New York, 1978, pp. 23-24). There is an "Arctic Resort," as in some other Anderson works.

Comparing the stories, I find another connection. The Cordy Chief on Nerthus reflects that, if Davis finds either an intelligent species or a colonizable planet, then "...he will go down in history with Carsten." (Star Ship, p. 88) And a Service machine directs Trevelyan to "'The planet Carsten's Star III, otherwise called Nerthus...'" (The Peregrine, p. 23).

Anderson devised a consistent background, which readers may or may not notice, for each of his many series.

The Generation Ship Idea

In Poul Anderson's "The Troublemakers", the Pioneer will take 123 years to reach Alpha Centauri. Everyone who enters the ship will die in it. How many would do this? Do their lives have any purpose other than to transmit their genes to an extrasolar colony planet? Well, yes, their own lives can have meaning if the spaceship is properly designed and equipped.

In this fictitious future, entire populations already live in artificial environments off Earth. The Pioneer is a space habitat that happens to be moving between systems instead of orbiting around the Sun. This does mean that there is no longer any possibility of revisiting Earth or any other part of the home system. However, crew members can be occupied either in scientific study of the space through which they are passing or in jobs that are necessary for the flight and maintenance of the ship.

Recreation and culture should be of the same quality as in any of the already existing enclosed environments. And we learn that applied psychodynamics ensures that, despite inevitable conflicts, society will neither collapse nor stagnate en route. So maybe the idea is not as mad as it sounds?

There are three types of people in the Pioneer:

those who entered the ship and will die in it;
those who are born and die in it;
those who are born in it but must be trained and equipped to colonize a planet at journey's end.

Anderson applies the Asimovian idea of a science of society to the Heinleinian idea of a generation ship. Psychotechnics prevents the Mutiny that destroyed technological civilization inside Heinlein's Vanguard. Having told this one story about an STL ship, Anderson then moves on to the FTL period of his History.

Political And Social Stories II

The opening four "political" installments of Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History are followed by three stories that describe social conditions on the future Earth, in an interstellar spaceship and on a colonized asteroid. However, the asteroid story also initiates a second political tetralogy:

in this story, "Holmgang," the anti-UN Humanists have a secret base in the Asteroid Belt;

in "Cold Victory," the Humanists have seized power on Earth but are losing it in an interplanetary war;

in "The Snows of Ganymede," the psychotechnicians, outlawed during the Humanist regime, organize and plot in the outer Solar System;

in "Brake," the Western Reformists have a secret base in the Asteroid Belt while a conflict between religion and secularism is about to plunge Earth into the Second Dark Ages, thus ending this phase of the History.

Between these political stories, there is one more social story. In "What Shall It Profit?," social dissatisfactions on Earth are so explosive that the discovery of a very restricted and impoverished kind of immortality must be kept secret. We are not told the outcome of this untenable situation but it could well be one more cause of the imminent social collapse.


Occasionally, the author of a future history series adds verisimilitude and depth to his fictitious history by introducing installments with passages "quoted" from historical texts notionally written in the future. Most notably, Poul Anderson invented the "Earthbook of Stormgate"as a framework for several periods of his History of Technic Civilization - in fact, for all the interstellar but pre-Flandry periods.

In Anderson's earlier Psychotechnic History, one story, "The Troublemakers", about a slower than light, multi-generation, interstellar spaceship, is preceded by an italicized passage from Starward! by Enrico Yamatsu. Following this lead, Sandra Miesel refers to "Yamatsu's classic history Starward!..." in her Foreword to the later volume, Starship (New York, 1982), p. 9.

Thus, she informs us that Yamatsu also covers the later period of faster than light travel. The single passage quoted from Yamatsu ends:

"The Pioneer, first of her class, was launched in 2126. A hundred and twenty-three years to Alpha Centauri - five or six generations, more than a long lifetime - but the dream would not be denied..."

- Cold Victory (New York, 1982), p. 32.

Here is a second definite year date in Anderson's texts. "The Big Rain" is set in 2051 and the Pioneer is launched in 2126.

I feel obliged to ask Yamatsu, "What dream?" Do governments launch manned spacecraft because the people who travel in those craft have dreamed of traveling through space? Governments usually expect some return which they are unlikely to receive from a one way extrasolar voyage.

Political And Social Stories

The first volume of Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History does not generate a strong sense of a future history:

in "Marius," European partisans stage a coup;
in "Un-Man," the Rostomily team of Un-Men foils a conspiracy to wreck the UN world government;
in "The Sensitive Man," the Sensitive Man and an FBI agent foil a conspiracy to subvert psychotechnics;
in "The Big Rain," a single UN-man overthrows a dictatorship.

Only the first of these works is a short story. The rest are novellas or short novels. Thus, the four fill a volume. However, all are "political," not "social." They describe particular events but not everyday life. (Heinlein's Future History was rightly commended precisely because it gave the future a daily life.)

The first story in the second volume starts to redress this balance. It begins:

"The first robot in the world came walking over the green hills with sunlight aflash off his polished metal hide."

- Poul Anderson, "Quixote and the Windmill" IN Anderson, Cold Victory (New York, 1982), pp. 15-29 AT p. 15.

The phrase, " hills...," evokes The Green Hills Of Earth, the second volume of Heinlein's Future History. The robot, walking between widely spaced buildings, passes human beings at work and at play. Thus, we begin to get a sense of everyday social activity.

The scene shifts to a tavern where, for the rest of the story, two men interact socially by getting drunk. This story features not another gang of would-be dictators and their secret service opponents but three of the many individuals who, paradoxically, are comfortable although unemployed, both conditions caused by automation:

the first man is physically strong and has moderate mechanical skills so his services are no longer required;
the second man had quit his boring servotechnician job because his real ambition had been to be a mathematician whereas nowadays mathematical machines handle not only routine computation but also independent research, supervised only by the handful of  "' geniuses" (p. 23);
even the non-specialized robot is unemployed because the non-specialized organic human beings directly control specialized machines for every purpose!

Of course, artistic and literary talent remain highly valued...

The dissatisfaction expressed in this story by the unemployed is one basis for the political conflicts later in the series.

Two other points -

(i) The robot says, "'I have no belligerent intentions...You should know I was conditioned against any such tendencies, even while my brain was in process of construction.'" (p. 27)

Thus, Isaac Asimov's First Law of Robotics at work outside Asimov's fictitious universe.

(ii) Sandra Miesel's Foreward comments that "...the Rostomily Brotherhood was destined to outlast the Institute that had created it." (p. 12)

But could the Psychotechnic Institute handle exogenesis? That sounds more like a job for the parallel Institute of Human Biology, which also outlasts the better known Psychotechnic Institute.

Sunday, 20 October 2013


Please bear with me. Yesterday (since we have just passed midnight), I posted once early in the day, then attended the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal, Cumbria, just north of here - before you get to Scotland.

Some people I was with at the Festival discussed which Doctor Who they preferred so I said that I preferred the original, HG Wells' Time Traveler. A young guy then surprised me by saying that he had enjoyed reading, on someone else's recommendation, Olaf Stapledon's Last And First Men. I took the opportunity to recommend Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series and future histories and also referred him to this blog so my time was not wasted from the point of view of blogging. (Guy, if you read this, please comment and tell us what you think?)

My time was not wasted in any case because, of all the events and activities at the Festival, the ones that I attended yesterday were:

four talented, well-informed writers and artists that I had never heard of before talking about how they had adapted Cervantes, Victor Hugo, HP Lovecraft, Conan Doyle and Shakespeare into comic strips;

the creators of Judge Dredd introducing, in a cinema patrolled by two Judges, a high quality short fan film followed by the second feature film which authentically transfers Dredd, Anderson and Megacity One onto the screen;

a stage adaptation of Alan Moore's V for Vendetta;

chance conversations with known writers and artists in the display rooms or on the streets.

And there is more today. Yesterday involved three kinds of adaptations:

from prose to comic strip;
from comic strip to screen;
from comic strip to stage.

Finally, Poul Anderson's prose would adapt very well to both comic strip and screen.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Wellsianism And Stapledonianism

It may not be realized how Wellsian and Stapledonian many of Poul Anderson's works are. Wells pioneered four sf themes:

time travel;
space travel;
alien invasion;
future history.

Stapledon incorporated the first three into the fourth. Thus, we read about Martian invasions of Earth not with characters and conversations but in a history book as we read about the Norman Conquest of England.

Anderson wrote several volumes on time travel and many volumes of several future histories. There Will Be Time combines time travel and future history and acknowledges Wells. Tau Zero describes space travel not to the Moon but into the next universe after ours. The War Of Two Worlds, with almost the same title as Wells' Martian invasion novel, also describes a Martian invasion of Earth.

Thus, not only alien invasion but specifically Martian invasion is a strong conceptual link between the three authors. Heinlein and Niven and Pournelle have alien invasions from other planets. As I said earlier, Anderson's "Soldier From The Stars" presents not a military but an economic conquest of Earth.

At the same time, Anderson's output of imaginative fiction is much vaster and significantly includes fantasies and historical novels that are neither Wellsian nor Stapledonian.

Friday, 18 October 2013


The Moon is the only planet visited by any of HG Wells' characters. Some view Mars. Others are attacked by Martians and, later, know that the Martians have also invaded Venus.

ER Burroughs, writing not speculative fiction but "sword and science," gives us the Moon, Mars, Venus, a Martian moon, Jupiter and one extrasolar planet. CS Lewis, replying to Wells, gives us the Moon, Mars and Venus.

Olaf Stapledon, Robert Heinlein and Poul Anderson all describe human colonists of Venus. This is a strong conceptual link between these three authors' future histories. In Anderson's second future history, the unpleasant character, Snelund, comes from an inadequately terraformed Venus. The Venerians of Heinlein's Future History also appear in Space Cadet, one of five of his Scribner Juveniles that I think can be described as the author's "Juvenile Future History."

Larry Niven, writing after the Venus probes, describes the exploration but not the colonization of that planet. The Venus that either is or can be made to become habitable remains a part of sf mythology but has ceased to be a setting for hard sf.

However, we think of Earth as our mother and our descendants will probably think likewise of any other planet that they come to inhabit. Thus, one of Anderson's Martian colonists applies the feminine pronoun to his adopted planet, obviously entirely forgetting Mars' original masculine persona.

Mature Civilization

Wells' and Stapledon's future histories culminate in mature civilizations. Heinlein's Future History Time Chart culminates in "...the end of human adolescence, and beginning of first mature culture..." (The Man Who Sold The Moon, London, 1964, p. 7), although I dislike Heinlein's idea of that culture in Time Enough For Love.

Asimov's Second Foundation works towards a Second Empire to be based on mental science, not on physical force, but this Plan is superseded by the telepathic robots and their planetary organism working to make the Galaxy a single collective consciousness.

In Blish's Cities In Flight Tetralogy, history is interrupted by the end of the universe. In Anderson's Psychotechnic History, the Third Dark Ages and the interstellar Empires are followed by a multi-species galactic civilization based on mental science and on individual control of cosmic energy. In Anderson's Technic History, the Terran Empire and the Long Night are followed by the Allied Planets, then by the Commonalty.

Six of these seven future histories express the aspiration towards a saner, better organized society. This aspiration is practicable, not utopian, although we cannot know in advance what such a society will be like. As Arthur C Clarke said, any civilization that has had a high technology for a long time must have solved its problems and resolved its internal conflicts because otherwise it would have destroyed itself long ago.

When there is abundant energy and technology, there will no longer be any need to compete in order to survive, to accumulate wealth, to exercise power or to win prestige although creative competition might continue in other forms.

Three Periods

Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History comprises 20 works set in three periods -

UN: 4 works about political conflicts;
Solar Union: 3 about social conditions + 4 about political conflicts;
FTL: 4 about Nomads, Cordies or both + 5 others.

In "Gypsy", Nomad culture begins;
in "Virgin Planet" and "The Pirates", Cordies (members of the Coordination Serice) address interstellar problems;
in The Peregrine, a Cordy cooperates with, then joins, the Nomads.

The Psychotechnic Institute has only one story, in the UN period, but psychotechnics as a science of society is a major issue throughout the series. The parallel Institute of Human Biology is mentioned only once, leaving a problem that we do not see resolved.

The Order of Planetary Engineers gets two stories in the Solar Union period but, we infer, ceases to exist during the Second Dark Ages, as do the Cordies during the Third Dark Ages which, presumably, the Nomads are equipped to survive.

Terraforming Venus

In Poul Anderson's "The Big Rain," more than a million complicated airmaker machines on the Venusian surface break down paraform, yielding water. The formaldehyde reacts with ammonia and methane to produce hydrocarbons, carbohydrates etc for food, fuel and fertilizer. Carbon dioxide is broken down into soot and oxygen, the latter to be bottled for industrial use. Other substances are separated and collected to be processed in cities.

When seven million airmakers have been built, the atmosphere will be changed in twenty Earth years plus another decade due to factors like the law of diminishing returns and stratospheric gas never reaching the surface.

Artificially mutated, solar powered bacteria, living off carbon and silicon, release oxygen from rocks and ores. Pulverized stone and sand mixed with fertilizer become soil. Other engineered organisms will provide an ecology. Water brought to the surface by volcanoes is extracted from magma and hydrated minerals.

Hydrogen bombs exploded at selected locations will ignite the volcanoes while platinum catalyst sown by aircraft and Venusian lightning will attack the remaining poisonous gasses that will then fall as compounds in "the Big Rain," lasting ten Earth years to yield rivers, lakes and seas. With soil spread, bacteria, plants and animals released and heavy rain falling for centuries, reclaimed sections will get close to Terrestrial conditions in a hundred years and Venus might become a Paradise in five hundred.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

On Venus

In Latin, it is necessary to know both the nominative and the genitive cases of a noun in order to know the root of the noun. Thus, the genitive of Mars is Martis so the root is Mart-, from which are derived the English adjectives, "martial" and "Martian".

The genitive of Jupiter is Jovis, hence "jovial" and "Jovian." The genitive of Venus is Veneris, hence "venerate," "venerable," "venereal" and, I argue "Venerian," not "Venusian." Wells, Stapledon and Lewis all write "Venerian." However, Poul Anderson writes "Venusian" so it is necessary to use this adjective when referring to his story, "The Big Rain", about the colonization of Venus.

In "The Big Rain", a Venusian city is a single metal and concrete unit, armored against a powerful, endless wind. Hundreds of large Hilsch tubes:

swivel to face the wind;
extract dust and sand for cement;
extract slow air molecules to refrigerate the city against Venusian heat;
extract fast molecules to help run pumps and generators.

There are:

nearly a thousand windmills;
many hectares of hydroponic plants providing oxygen and food;
chemical purifiers and blowers.

The twenty thousand city-dwellers comprise miners, engineers, laborers and technicians with three doctors, a few teachers, librarians, policemen and administrators and fifteen staff for brewing, distilling, tavern-running, movie-operation etc. The Technic Board, or city government, combining legislature, executive and judiciary, owns everything. Every Venusian city has a Board and a federal board in the city of New America decides planetary policy. Entry to the government requires rigid tests, years of apprenticeship, study of history, psychotechnics and physical science and gradual promotion on the recommendation of seniors. The boards comprise just two thousand people governing two million with the help of computers.

Colonists, sent to mine fissionables, included convicts, arbitrarily assigned personnel, the unemployed or those displaced by war. The Venusian colonies were made self-sufficient of necessity and have now declared their independence from Earth.

Psychotechnic Chronology

"This was New America, chief city of Venus in 2051 A.D."

- Poul Anderson, "The Big Rain" IN The Psychotechnic League (New York, 1981, pp. 201-280) AT p. 205.

"The Big Rain" is the fourth installment of Anderson's Psychotechnic History. This is the first (and maybe the only?) textual reference to a year date in the series.

The Chronology at the end of Volume III of the series is:

"Prepared by Sandra Miesel, based in part on the chronology published by Poul Anderson in Startling Stories, Winter, 1955. Many dates are approximate and the author is not bound by them."

- Starship (New York, 1982), p. 284.

So there may be three layers of dates:

any that are given in the texts - 2051 plus any others?;
any that were in Anderson's 1955 chronology;
any that may have been added in Miesel's 1982 Chronology -

- but, in any case, we are told that many are approximate and none are binding.

Miesel's Chronology contains:

2300 The Second Dark Ages
2784 Hyperdrive invented

Note the rounded nature of some, though not all, of the dates. A Dark Age, unlike a war, does not begin or end in a particular year. So what happened in 2600? Perhaps a restoration of civilization, enabling new technological innovations?

The stories were not published in their fictitious chronological order and it would have been impossible initially to recognize them as a series:

1950 2120 "Quixote and the Windmill"
1950 2875 "Star Ship"
1950 2815 "Gypsy"
1951 3000 "The Acolytes"
1953 post-4000 "The Chapter Ends"
1953 2004 "Un-Man"
1953 2009 "The Sensitive Man"
1953 2205 "The Troublemakers"
1954 3110 "Teucan"
1954 2051 "The Big Rain"
1955 2200 "What Shall It Profit?"
1956 3120 The Peregrine
1957 1964 "Marius"
1957 2270 "Brake"
1957 2140 "Holmgang"
1957 2180 "Cold Victory"
1957 3100 "Virgin Planet"
1968 3115 "The Pirate"

"Green Thumb" is set about 3000 but I do not know its publication date although I expect that it also was early '50's. Thus, apart from a single later addition, this is entirely a 1950's future history, what I call a "past future." "Green Thumb", according to an internet book review, is about human beings colonizing an extrasolar planet but maybe not recognizing that it is inhabited.